Island Girl Vacations and Travel
|Posted on December 29, 2017 at 2:25 PM||comments (0)|
Our last group trip was 8 of us for a family member’s milestone birthday to Sandals Emerald Bay in Exuma, Bahamas. There is something inherently fun when you bring a group together for a vacation. I know some worry that they will not be able to do their own thing but we have found it to be just the opposite. A group vacation provides built in entertainment and like-minded people when you want and a solitary or couples vacation when you don't. This is a smaller group but slightly larger groups can qualify for reduced costs or even free rooms or air. We did not all arrive or leave on the same day so we had extra flexibility to fit the vacation to our time off and monetary concerns.
We had 8 very different people when it came to vacation style. We had many meals together but also had intimate dinners as couples as well. One couple had a beautiful candle light dinner one night while the rest of us got together for drinks and then dinner at the French option. Some of took advantage of the wonderful massages and other services offered at the Red Lane Spa and other never set foot inside. One of couples was super active and hiked, walked, canoed, paddle boarded, snorkeled, and went night crab watching. A few individuals joined them for some of this but they mostly did it on their own. Some just let the sand or pool gravity take them away and relaxed. One couple went on a tour to swim with the pigs; but the rest of us stayed at the resort having done this on a previous trip. All but one couple rented a car and explored the island. Driving on wrong side of the road to check out beaches, bars and even islands just off shore by ferry. Some of us went to the returning guest dinner and some opted to do their own thing that night. We joined each other for night time entertainment as it worked for each couple. With free Wi-Fi the location of others was only a message away. Many nights ended with Karaoke, pool, and ping pong, dancing, or playing a card game someone brought. The takeaway here is do not be afraid to join a group as you can always make it your own vacation at any time.
There were certainly some things we could all agree on. The resort is located a large stretch of soft white sand with no vendors unless you sought them out at the very end of the beach. The water is an amazing shade of blue. The Greg Norman Golf Course offers challenging play and beautiful vistas along the ocean side. The resort was lush and beautiful. The addition of Soy and Kimono’s offered great sushi and show cooking. Bombay added Indian food as an option and our family style dinner with the whole group was one of our favorites. The stars shine so bright at night that they were their own show. We still find this resort to be more laid back in the day and night compared to many that we have been to which was great for some and a bit disappointing for others. The island feels very safe and with one main road it was easy to navigate and get out and experience it.
If you are considering a group vacation for a wedding, anniversary, birthday, family reunion, or just because please contact me and I would be happy to help coordinate your travel.
|Posted on August 7, 2017 at 6:40 PM||comments (0)|
My recent cruise on the Majestic Princess allowed me to see what it was like to visit many ports and have several sea days on the newest ship in the Princess fleet. My own European Cruise started in Rome and ended in Dubai. At just over 2 weeks it was all the vacation days I had left so there are a few things I did a little different than I would suggest clients do them. Like most people I had a personal reason for choosing this cruise. I grew up looking at pictures of my grandparents in Greece so with two ports in different areas I was excited to walk in the places I had seen them in the photos. The others ports spoke to the explorer in me. Since no one else was able to go with me I also got to experience what a solo cruise was like. One of the major things I did different than I suggest for clients is I arrived in Rome the day of the cruise departure. I did this because I was short on time and it almost ended my cruise before it began. Coming from the Mid-West I connected in Amsterdam. Upon arrival, I and several others were told our flight to Rome was cancelled. Luckily I was able to be placed on standby for a different flight and only arrived a few hours late. My private driver Roberto from NCC was waiting outside the terminal for me with a sign with my name on it. He loaded my bags and we were off to see the site???s of Rome . Being one of the few drivers with the special licence we were allowed to drive in places many are not; this helped to get me close to see all I could in my 3 hour window. We started at the Vatican where I explored the square. I just missed the Pope???s address to the people; but, I was able to imagine the seats filled with followers as I took many photos of the fountains, obelisk, and buildings. The sales people are pretty tenacious and I learned you have to give a hard no to get them to stop. I ducked into a shop for Gelato before returning to my driver for our next stop. Next we went to a scenic overlook with great views of the eternal city and some nice statutes and foliage in its own right. Piazza Navona with its many fountains, picturesque shops, and old world buildings was next. I took tons more photos while milling about with other tourists. I managed to barely resist more sweet treats or a slice of pizza and instead we were off to the Pantheon. This attraction is also free but you do need to get in line to the right facing the entrance. The line moved pretty fast and gave you an opportunity for more pictures of the fountain and obelisk or just the outside of the Pantheon which is quite impressive in its symmetry. Through enormous ancient doors you pass into a historically rich space. There are still masses held frequently. Every part of the large space is filled with statuary, frescoes, and burial tombs . You could likely come back for years and still see something new. The oculus is amazing as an architectural element built so long ago. It is awe inspiring the level of ability they had with such limited tools and really makes you ponder how we build today with our ???modern??? equipment. The passing of time is seen as the sun shifts across the room as it enters the oculus so try to slate enough time to enjoy the experience. Short on time I left with sensory overload and headed back out to the crowds and stopped to take a few pics of the horse drawn carriages you can rent. I did see a few in operation across the day. Our next stop was the Trevi Fountain. This fountain is truly spectacular out doing its smaller cousins I saw before or after. The crowds are again super thick and it took a bit to jostle to the bottom to toss my coin over my shoulder to make my wish. Once done the return up the stairs through the people took a bit of navigation so I snapped a few more photos of the surrounding architecture and returned to my driver. Our next stop was the Spanish Steps. We passed 2 more obelisks as he parked. There is a boat themed fountain at the bottom of the steps that got their name from its location close to the Spanish embassy. I did the walk up the steps stopping for a variety of pictures. Most of these locations offer guides that will take you on a paid walking tour but with my time crunch I made do with what I had. My last stop was the Coliseum and the Arch of Constantine. The Coliseum is vast and a guided tour could have taken hours. In this case I made do with pictures of both that I could get from the outside. By now I was warn out and can vouch for the fact that a pre stay of several days would afford a much more in depth tour; but, if you can not take the extra days you can see quite a bit in 3 hours. Exhausted from traveling and my whirlwind tours Roberto drove me the hour and 15 minutes to the cruise port. What few times I woke from my car induced slumber I noted some beautiful countryside. Roberto dropped me off at my boarding point and was off to make cherry jam with his twin nieces. I did arrive about a half an hour short of the cut off time for embarking so things got a little rushed for a bit. My larger bags with the Princess tags on them were taken and x-rayed to be dropped at my cabin. I then went to check in . My remaining bag and purse were x-rayed, passport checked, and sailing card issued. For this cruise they collected my passport and returned it before final departure. For all of my ports till end I only need to take my ship card. This card also acts a credit card charging on the ship any items I need. Card in hand I walk to the ship and am scanned into the system. I immediately headed to my cabin to get my life jacket to do the required muster drill. Safety information is discussed and you put on your life jacket once and then you are free to go about your vacation. In my case it was back to the cabin to freshen up. My bags were already at my door so I unpacked, showered, and headed out to watch the sail away party. Majestic Princess was headed to China and is following the Silk Road trading route. Our send off was a Chinese children???s dance troupe and the Ansari Waist Drum Team . This was followed by the love boat theme played loud and proud. I then headed to get something to eat. I opted for the buffet style Marketplace and found it to have a more Asian focus than I am used to. That is true Across the ship as there is a noodle bar, dim sum station, 5 star Asian dining options, and a bubble tea area. After getting my belly full I headed to one of the lookout areas to take sunset pictures. There really is not much like a sunset over the water. It has a beauty all its own. Having not confirmed to my husband that I made it to the ship I headed back to the cabin to tell him all about my day. Naples was our first port and I toured Capri, Sorrento, and Pompeii. I had a quick breakfast at the Market Place and then went with my tour receipt to the designated meeting area. We were given sticker representing our tour upon arrival and then had a seat awaiting our departure call. My group met out in front of the ship and we???re given a radio with one ear bud to listen to our guide across the day. He explained our itinerary and then we were off on foot to the dock to catch the hydrofoil to Capri. We waited while he purchased our tickets and the got in line to board the boat. With advisement from our guide we went to the top and sat on the left side so we would have good view of Mt. Vesuvius . At this time of the morning the fog was still burning off from the mainland giving everything an ethereal look. We docked at Capri past many smaller picturesque fishing/sailing ships. There were many shops at the base of Capri as well as options to book the Blue Grotto. When I return to Capri this will be on my agenda. For our tour we took the cable to the top. Amazing sea views await you along with amazing food, smells, oh and more views as you walk to the other side of the island. Our guide walked us to the other side with the iconic views of the twin rocks. Along the way he told us of the island's history and explained the perfume and lemon focus of many of the stores. The island seems to have amazing smells around each corner. Some scents are from blooming plants and some came from the perfume diffusers placed in front of each perfumery. We passed one that spritzed each passer-by with fragrance. Mine was wonderful with just the citrus notes I prefer. As we passed one of many stands selling lemon drinks and Gelato the incredibly large lemons grown in the area were hung all around. He also pointed out the most dangerous part of the island. An area you do not go down without a fully loaded wallet or credit card. Lol. Top designers abound and I could not help but think my friend Amy would probably have to be pulled away with physical force as I am sure that street is as close to heaven on earth for her as any place. We passed an old monastery that has beautiful gardens and continued to the look out point of the Gardens of Augustus. The views were indeed gorgeous. One area had the iconic light blues and the other the twin rocks with sailing vessels zipping about. The cliffs are covered with unique foliage that only enhance the picturesque qualities. From here we had about an hour of free time. I snapped more pictures as I worked my way back around. I stopped at one of the lemon stalls and purchased a non alcoholic lemon mojito which was flavorful but tart. Drawn by the sweet scents I wandered into many of the perfumery store trying to decide on a scent to buy. I was unsuccessful in this quest, which was probably for the best as I tend to be quite true to my perfume choices and trips back to Capri to restock, though wonderful in theory, would make it difficult to keep myself supplied. I did make it into a sweet shop and purchased a cannoli and a pistachio treat. The pistachio treat was perfect and melt in your mouth. The cannoli finally made me a convert, as each one I have tried in the U.S just left me wondering what all the fuss was about. I met back up with the group and we took the cable car back down to the bottom. Here we were again given some free time. While browsing I was offered samples of the lemon treats and Lemoncello. We boarded a ferry headed to Sorrento. This one did not have an open top area which made it harder to take good pictures of the coastline as we arrived. At the dock we were able to get some pics of the famous hotels and beach but we???re quickly whisked off to lunch. Our lunch was in a quaint Sorento diner specializing in ingredients from the Campania region . With white wine and a cold bottles of water we sat to begin our meal. I was seated with the 2 other solo cruisers and one of the crew who was selected to do the tour. Our first course was a delicious ricotta and spinach cannelloni. Second course was Sorrento style chicken breast , peas, and potatoes. We finished with a strawberry dessert. The diner looked like the quintessential movie version with flowers artfully located throughout coupled with paintings. Outside there was an uniquely laid out fish display promising fresh fish meals that were sure to please. We walked a bit from the restaurant to our final coach. Along the way we passed many bitter orange trees and classic flower covered balconies. The coach took us on our hour long drive to Pompeii. Those on the left side of the coach were treated to wonderful coastal views. Myself I could not fight my eyelids and slept most of the way. After parking we walked a bit to the entrance to Pompeii. You are greeted by a large bronze nude statue. You also see the outer walls of Pompeii. Our guide explained that so much ash rained down that the area was buried in close to 40 feet of ash which resulted in the coast line being extended many miles. We were shown where the boats used to tie up and it is amazing the amount of land that has been added. We walked along the ruins and as our guide told the story of Pompeii he pointed out how little is really new today. We were shown speed bumps to keep chariot drivers under control, bakeries, and lots of taverns/fast food options. The knowledge that establishments had sliding doors is very interesting to me. Pet lovers will love the famous beware of dogs mural. Little truly remains of the city as so much was looted by soldiers sent to unearth it and most of what was left is in the Naples museum. There are a few frescos, fountains, sculptures, and architectural structures evident and they do have areas displaying some relics as well as chalk casts of adults, children and even dogs trapped in the volcanic ash. In all this time at least 30 percent of the city is still unexcavated and further excavation is on hold. The current focus is to save what is exposed. All and all it is still amazing what remains. Today very little of our creations could survive such an event much less the passage of time. We finished with a cameo carving display and a chance to souvenir shop. Then we loaded back up to return to port. Reboarding was just a matter of showing our sail cards and running our bags through the scanners. I returned to my cabin to freshen up and headed to Symphony, one of my anytime dining options. Cruising solo I opted to set with a group of people. I met 4 people from Australia and 2 from California. Many of them had been on the ship since Barcelona and we???re seeing it through all the way to Shanghai. Talk about getting to see a wide variety of places. After dinner I returned to catch my husband up and again fell asleep worn out by the long day of seeing so many sites. I woke up long before I would have been up for a tour and started writing on my cruise experiences. Feeling a bit hungry I headed for the Market Place buffet. I went to try and find a comfortable place to write. I soon decided there was no such a place as my back had locked up . I slowly made my way to the spa to seek some relief. No massage openings were available but after looking at my sorry state and discussing my problem they recommended acupuncture. With the pain I was in I figured what did I have to lose. Before this trip I would have said there is no way I would ever do several things and this was certainly one of them. The therapist explained the process. I lay upon the table and she placed several needles in my back and below. Most of them I could not feel at all while a couple were minor discomfort. After they were applied I was left to relax and let them take effect. About a half and hour later the needles were removed and I did get up from the table much easier. I went back to the cabin to get my swim suit so I could use The Enclave. This is a heat and water therapy area and is extra on the ship unless you have a cabin that includes it. I went through the circuit ending at the heated tile beds. At first I was a bit uncomfortable with the shape but must have gotten over that as I woke up about an hour later. My back bothered me for quite a bit and I did 3 more acupuncture appointments, used the Enclave frequently and had a hot stone massage over the course of the cruise. I can vouch for the service provided at all points and how friendly all the spa personnel were. Being a sea day I got a chance to explore the ship. I grabbed a bite at the International Café. As I ate I read about the coffee cards and it???s benefits for you specialty coffee and teas drinkers. I like my tea plain and I have never developed a taste for coffee so I will just have to pass this information onto you without trying them. It was also our first Formal night and there were several events planned and special picture opportunities. Many were dressed to the nines in tuxedos and fine dresses and other in nice clothing. If you opted to not dress up you were welcomed at the Market Café buffet. With this length of Cruise there are 3 formal nights and dressing up is encouraged . There are movies on deck each night for two showings and sometimes one inside. The movie options varied day and night and really covered a broad range of genres. The Champagne party was the highlight of the first formal night with glasses stacked tall and filled with many bottles. There was always music at night in the Piazza and many places to enjoy a cocktail or the company of other cruisers. Athens was my next port and my tour is to be The Temple of Poseidon, The Acropolis, and a visit to Plaka. I went up to the higher decks to take pictures of what the area looked like from the boat and then went to grab a bite from the buffets. I make sure to fill up as lunch times vary. I packed 3 bottles of water in my bag for the day and headed out to the meeting station. We sat watching the news of the Manchester pop concert bombings while waiting for our group to be called. Our guide Irene (pronounced totally different) met us at the bus and handed out the receivers so we would be able to hear her during the tour. We loaded up for the over an hour drive to the Temple of Poseidon. Our guide pointed out many areas and discussed a lot of Athens history. She also told of the contest between Poseidon and Athena and how Athena???s gift of the olive branch won over the citizens driving Poseidon further away. The large sprawling area of Athens gave way to more picturesque areas on the way to the temple. With our rate of speed good pictures during the drive were more of a fluke than a given unless you had top of the line equipment. Arriving at the temple there is a small souvenir, drink, and snack option next to the area that the busses park. The Temple is a bit of a walk up. On the way you get to see some of the neighboring resorts/beaches and outlying islands. The Temple is not still a complete structure but it is still impressive. You can also see some remains of even older ruins on site. It was interesting to hear that the poet Byron is credited with the start of travelers carving their names into the structures. This is no longer allowed but you can see centuries of markings. There are also some protected animals you may encounter as you explore the site that make for cute pictures. We were given free time to explore and purchase souvenirs and then back on the bus we went. Lunch was a tasty buffet at a local hotel. The baklava and other option gave a perfect taste of the area. Arriving at the Acropolis you start to see ancient relics right away. In fact your first steps will be on marble paved walkways from long ago. We followed our guide to the top with a few explanations about the temples on the way. Once at the top we were given more information and told places to see each for the best view and then given a meeting time . The Temple of Nike can be seen on the way up but you get a much better perspective from different angles at the top. The Amphitheater can be seen in it???s full glory from the top. It is amazing that it is still used for top level performances to this day. The Parthenon is more guarded than years past. It is interesting to see the white marble that denotes the replaced areas. It is still an impressive site. Many of the sculptures that used to reside inside can be viewed at the Athens Museum. Erechtheion with its large goddess statues is supposed to be the site of the olive tree that Athena gave to the people to win their love over Poseidon. From the top near the flag you also have a wonderful Aerial view of the city. You can see several more monuments and the large rocky area where the first Pope to tried to bring Christianity to the area and preached his sermons. Over all it is an amazing location with so much history and folklore. The guides promote a jewelry store that makes Athens pendants that can be engraved with your name in Greek. I went ahead and got the bracelet version but instead of my own name I had my grandmother???s name added. My grandparents trip to Greece, when I was a child, has always stuck with me and it was nice to feel I walked a bit in their shoes. On the way to the old town area of Plaka we passed several more monuments and the bus dropped us off in front of a rather impressive gate. Plaka is basically a shopping opportunity but the area is cute and has a lot of variety. I picked up some more souvenirs, had a bit of their pistachio Gelato and just took in the area.Meeting back up with our coach I was given my newly made silver bracelet and we were headed back to the ship. This took a bit as the large number of taxis seemed like they were out in full force. It is crazy to find out that they have almost 4 times the amount of taxis as NYC. I spent the evening trying out more of the dining and entertainment options on the ship. My next port was Santorini and I had another long day of seeing as much of the island as possible planned. This day began similar to the other port days except this time we would be tendering in to the port from the ship. Organized ship tours still waited in their staging areas until called. Once you got to the tender area the ship was loaded and we were taken to port area where the buses waited. Here there were a few shops but we really only had time to board the coaches. The coaches then began the windy road to the top to begin our tour of Akrotiri, Oia, lunch and wine tasting, visiting the black sand beach and ending in Fira. We were the first to arrive at the dig site of Akrotiri. This was another site lost for many years due to burial by a volcanic eruption. The site is enclosed and can be done on one level or more in depth with some stairs. Much of what was found is at the Museum but the architecture is mostly excavated giving interesting glimpses into a people of long ago. You can see that people have built like us, used plumbing like us, lived in many ways similarly to us for much longer than we may expect. For those interested in history this will be an interesting hour or so. Next we were driven to a high point near the monastery for some photo ops. This drive is not for the squeamish as it is often a one lane road both ways with large coaches. You are up so high that the area can be coated in clouds. It was mostly clear during our visit so we got a nice bird's eye view of much of the island. The monastery however looked a bit creepy shrouded in the clouds and mist. We did pass some beautiful options for those who would rather fly in and stay a while. Our drive across the island to Oia gave our guide time to discuss the wine and olive production that is prevalent on the island. She also pointed out each color of dirt and sand found on the island as we passed through the narrowest area of the island. Oia began as a guided tour and then we were given free time to explore a bit. 4 Cruise ships were in early in the morning and these made for a crowded walk through the narrow lanes. My goal will be to choose an option with the least ships in Port. Crowds aside there were many opportunities to take photos of the many blue and white churches and just the quintessential seaside village. Lots of shops line the streets offering food, drinks, and souvenirs. We headed next to the black sand beach which was a first for me. It was not quite the sand I am used to but I could see the appeal and lots of people seemed to be enjoying this Oceanside area. We had a lovely lunch at a restaurant that also grew their own wine. We returned to Fira and were given free time to shop before taking the cable cars back down to the tenders. Here was more beautiful architecture, dining, and shopping options. The line for the cable car was long but it beat the 600 steps to the bottom. At the base there were more shops and a chance to bid the island farewell before tendering to the ship. The night was again filled with more dining and entertainment options. I finally stayed up late enough to watch the lighted water show and the late night film. This became a habit as they both changed night to night. After a few sea days my next adventure was the all day transiting of the Suez Canal. I got up quite early but still missed the entry point at Port Said. I spent much of the morning walking from the port to the starboard sides taking pictures of the juxtaposition of the often very developed Egyptian cities with the wide stretches of desert. We were part of a convoy transiting the canal. We passed under the Friendship bridge funded by Japan and by a war memorial. It was neat to see the area where the new and old canals met. I was very surprised by the almost Caribbean appearance of the Bitter Lake areas. The Mosques and churches we passed were beautiful and even surprising as we saw the two religions side by side. Exiting the canal at Suez we passed by another beautiful mosque and lushly landscaped area. There was a variety of old and new the entire transit that kept my interest the whole day and my sunscreen did not keep up. That evening in all my red sunburned glory I had dinner at one of the options you had to pay extra for unless it was included with the special when you booked. I found each one to be quite delicious and the service to be extra attentive. Meat at the Crown Grill was amazing and I had one of the most inventive items I have eaten in my travels at Harmony. I finished the night with a movie in the games lounge instead of on deck as it was so much cooler. More sea days allowed me to explore the ship . My back was mostly better and I finally spent my day out in the pool watching the early movie. This became my habit for the sea days to come. The movie got over just in time to go do the line dance classes and feeling better I was able to learn quite a few. Also across the day were ballroom dance classes and often in the evening I would watch the these couple exhibit their newly learned skills to the band at the Piazza as I sipped my wine or Bellini. Alfredo's Pizzeria had wonderful pizzas and other options and since the manger was just lovely to me always seating me at a window seat I ate there often as the cruise progressed for lunch or dinner. I lost my usual $20 in the casino and considered a few of the paintings in the art lounge. My first time to high tea was not my last as the company was always as lovely as the desserts. I tried the wine tasting experience which I found informative and a broadening experience . I watched many others order many bottles of wine to have them the next night if not finished and I thought this was a great perk. After the class I felt up to trying a bottle for myself. I also attended my first destination lecture and it was so informative I wish I had attended them all. The Motown variety shown was excellent and the two Comedians were funny, One night we had a concert pianist that was in a league of his own. They showed his hands on the back monitor and it amazes me what some humans are capable of. Jordan and the lost city of Petra was the next port. At the port you can actually see Egypt, Israel, and Jordan. I followed what had become the normal port day experience and then we were whisked off by bus to Petra. Along the way we got to see the port city of Aquaba and the almost alien looking landscape of the arid mountains and few plains. The colors are amazing and I can see why parts are used in place of Mars in many films. We saw Bedouin camps and were told about how they lived. We happened to be in Jordan during Ramadan so we did experience a few difference that you may not. Our guide was not Muslim so he ate with us at lunch and drank water but many other guides did neither as their religion prohibited those things till sundown. Our walk to the beginning of the Siq was about a half hour and we had many photo ops in this time. I was excited to see the city so I wanted hurry this process but discovered later why it is important to take this time to take the picture on the way in. The Siq itself is at least an hour walk and has many beautiful rock features, relics, and history, that your guide will share. Petra itself is almost surreal in its colors as they change from the time you arrive to the time you depart. Many of the structures still allow you to go inside and see the beauty of the carved stone. Much of the site was compromised by the Romans so you will see Roman structures and Nabataean. In truth you could spend days exploring to really see this whole site but after walking to the Tomb of the Kings I was quite worn out and we were out of time. The walk back through the siq is uphill and takes quite a bit out of even the fittest folks, This is why I mentioned to take your time with pictures on the way in. Once we had returned we had a buffet lunch and some time to buy souvenirs. Then we backtracked through the alien landscape to the ship. After a shower and dinner I explored the ship some more and discovered the Karaoke rooms you can rent as a group. My son and his friends would have a blast. I also checked out the kids clubs and tell you there are tons of things for kids of all ages. The adult kids can gold or go to the shooting range. More sea days ended our journey as we sailed the Red Sea to the Arabian Sea to my final port of Dubai. I settled into a routine and was glad for the time to relax. I was getting a bit homesick at this point though so the morning we arrived in Dubai I was excited to be that much closer to home. I collected my bags, exchanged my money and met my guide to spend 10 hours in Dubai before I flew out that night. This is another thing I would suggest my clients do a bit differently. A couple nights would have allowed me to explore the area much more in depth and even visit Abu Dhabi. My local guide, Ute, was chosen by me to get the female perspective of living in the area. A transplant from Germany 20 years ago she was able to give a lot of insight to the Emirati people and that women have a much different life than we think they do as Americans in this area . First we were off to the Textile, Spice, and Gold souks . Though touristy they were all interesting and great for souvenirs. I got to ride an abra across the creek. The city is full of beautiful Mosques and the call to prayer was nice to hear in person. My guide took me out to the end of the Palm islands to see Atlantis Dubai that is basically a replica of Atlantis in the Bahamas. The architecture was so varied everywhere we went. We took pictures from a local Beach of the Burj Al Arab and more from the Jumeriah hotels which offer a lot of options for tourists. Next we were off to the mall that contains the fountains, ice skating rink, aquarium, art and the entrance to the world tallest building the Burj Khalifa. Up to the 125th floor I quickly went . The sunset, views of the World Islands, and skyline view is amazing. After tons of pictures I made my way back down in time to watch the fountain show . The fountain was beautiful and the skyline fully lit was as well. I ended my night in Dubai with cocktails at the Sky View Bar in the Burj Al Arab. This is a cool experience and the camel colada was even quite tasty. The views were different from those in the center of the city and it was nice to reflect over my and take it all in . Over the course of the day I learned a lot . I was impressed by people I met and felt safer than I expected. Dubai is truly worth a longer visit. If you read this far and are interested in a similar or different experience I would be happy to help you have an adventure that you will love to tell others about for the rest of your life.
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I hope you are poised to have a wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New Year. Thank you all so much for making this the best year yet for Island Girl Vacations and Travel. Trying to fit your vacation to you is truly a joy for me and I hope we all have many more vacations in our future,
This year I was fortunate to visit four different Caribbean destinations. Punta Cana, Jamaica (Negril area), Antigua, and Barbados. I am closing in on 300 resorts visited . I hope this make me a valuable tool for your future planning needs. I stepped out of my comfort zone attended my first national conference for my parent company of Travel Quest/Travel Leaders all by myself. Mid January i will be on my own again for the Sandals Home Based Agent conference in Nassau Bahamas. I continued to train on different specialties. I was very excited to add Alaskan specialist this year. Not the Caribbean I know but an exciting option non the less.
My Punta Cana trip resulted in my touring around 20 resorts while we stayed at the adults only Breathless Punta Cana. I was so impressed with how deep every beach at the resorts I visited was. There are resorts of all types for every traveler. The people were very friendly. As we often do we went off resort and had a wonderful meal at a beachside restaurant. I was so glad to return and have real life input for several clients that have since booked to the Island. I have my first large destination wedding taking place at Barcelo Bavaro Palace November 2017.
We returned to Jamaica in May and stayed in an area we had visited but not called home. Negril is known for its 7 mile beach which we explored on our own and through site visits to even more resorts. Home base for us was Couples Swept Away which is on a great stretch of that beach. It was nice to see the changes at Sandals Negril and Beaches Negril. What was really an eye opener for us was the cliff-side. We have been to Rick's Cafe several times but this time we opted for the less touristy Push Cart. The food was good and the atmosphere more laid back. We watched many of our new friends on the included catamaran tour that docked below the restaurant to play in the slides and explore the caves below. Touring cliff-side resorts was a special treat and would be a great place for those who love to snorkel or just want a different type of Caribbean vacation. The hubs did the One Love Pub crawl and got to experience 8 different stops. Both the cliff side and the seven mile beach offer great sunset opportunities. Even though this was our 12 stay in Jamaica there are still so many more things to do and see there so I can not wait to see what the next time will bring.
We took our group trip to Sandals Antigua in late November. It is really a different dynamic when you travel in a group. Built in entertainment from your friends and family or the ability to do things on your own is a great experience. Some of us held down the pool volleyball court while others lounged in Cabanas. We introduced two in our group to swimming with the stingrays. One stated it was the most surreal but awesome thing he has done. We finished up that tour with a visit to Devil's Bridge, a wave crashing historical site on the island. Four of us did the 360 island catamaran tour that took us all around this small island. Two others in our group did the D party boat and had a blast. The resort was beautiful and fun late into the night with a DJ or Karaoke in the Pub each night. I was supposed to do site visits of other resorts but Prince Harry’s visit cut that short. Some of our fellow guests said they saw him walking the resort while he was staying there. I would say our group had a great time. You know it has been amazing when the tears fall at departure.
Our final trip for 2016 was to Sandals Barbados. This we did as a couple by taking the smaller Liat airline from Antigua to Barbados. It is more difficult from our airports here in the Midwest to get to Barbados so this was a great way for me to experience another island and pass that experience onto you. Our first night we went to Oistin’s Fish Fry by cab from the resort. This fishing village is alive with vendors, music, people, and the delicious smells of their fresh catches that they are cooking up for the throngs of people who come every Friday. The people were very welcoming and though they would prefer you buy from them were not pushy. Over the course of the night my husband overpaid several times trying to get used to the exchange rate and was alway refunded the extra he paid. You can take a stroll from the resort to St. Lawrence Gap and experience even more Bajan culture. The rest of our relatively short stay was spent playing pool volleyball and exploring the beach and resort. We were very lucky to have a Butler room this stay which was a first for us. All the special touches and extra attention can be a great addition for those going on a special occasion or those who just really want pampered. I have to say that this resort had some of the best food we have had on vacation. The resort is undergoing construction and by this time next year will more than double its current size.
Sadly we had to return home and try to catch up on things and prepare to spend Christmas with family and friends. Please visit my Facebook page or website to see pictures of this and previous years travels. I hope they inspire you to go and experience something for yourself. From my family to yours Merry Christmas and Happy New year.
Island Girl Vacations and Travel
|Posted on August 15, 2016 at 3:15 PM||comments (0)|
Sitting here thinking of all I have planned for the rest of the year. I have lots of travelers who will see lots of places and many more in the process of booking their next vacation. I have the Travel Quest National meeting in Minneapolis, the Sandals Home Based Travel Agent conference in Nassau, Bahamas, my personal/group vacation at Sandals Antigua, and lastly a trip to see Sandals Barbados and visit the island.
This will be my first National meeting. This meeting gives me a chance to meet other Travel Advisors and network with tour operators. I also will be taking several seminars to learn more about travel areas that I have less personal experience with. Being located in a small town I get requests for all types of vacations not just my specialties and all options to learn are important to me. I am really looking forward to the Rocky Mountaineer Train Vacation training.
This Year will also be my first Sandals Home Based Agent Conference. I have personally been to Sandals Royal Bahamian last in 2010 when I proposed to my hubs. It will be fun to see the changes that have happened since that visit. They added swim up suites and totally remodeled several areas. I hope to get some free time to snorkel of the private island as we loved it in 2010. I will also be updating my Sandals Wedding Specialist training. A destination wedding can be so very easy and special and Sandals gives so many choices from free to elaborate. I can’t wait to see what new options they are providing. I am sure we will hear more about the new over water chapel in St. Lucia and who know what else.
I will be leading a group to Sandals Antigua after Thanksgiving. We were last at this resort in 2013 as our free week for having 70 paid nights at Sandals (yes it is really a thing). I am excited to introduce everyone to the resort. Many of these same people went with us to Sandals Emerald Bay which had amazing water and a secluded beach. I am sure they will find Antigua is a bit different but still fun with more nightlife and ding options. Many of us are looking forward to swimming with the stingrays. We did this last time and they are such graceful creatures. Others will just enjoy the included 360 boat tour around the island. I will visit a variety of resorts on the island to gain more firsthand knowledge of options for you my clients.
After we bid everyone farewell we will hop over to Barbados. This will be my first visit to the island and the newest in the Sandals family Sandals Barbados. We look forward to walking to the nearby areas and are hoping to get in several tours. I also am working to set up resort tours to see more options.
I promise to update you as these things occur. I know a lot of it seems fun and it is these experiences that help me speak knowledgably about the different resorts, areas, and tours that I recommend.
|Posted on August 2, 2016 at 10:05 AM||comments (0)|
I just had a family return from Memories Splash Punta Cana. They “had an awesome time...loved the water park and the Diamond Club beach and pool! The beach was absolutely beautiful. The food was good at Memories, but amazing at Royalton...we paid the upcharge 2 nights to eat at the Hibachi grill and the Steakhouse...worth it! The transportation to and from the airport was excellent...we felt like royalty on the way to the airport because we had a brand new black Chevy Suburban pick us up. Even the guy handling our luggage for us said we were "traveling VIP style" lol. You checking us in for our flights really helped a lot...thank you so much for that! “My clients were not originally sold on this resort but it was one of the Punta Cana resorts offering all the items they were requesting for the adults and their 7 and 14 year old sons.
In March I stayed in Punta Cana and spent 2 days exploring almost 20 other resorts than the one we had as home base. I used Amstar for our round trip private transportation and for the resort tours. This gave me a good feel for their service. Seeing so many resorts gave me firsthand knowledge of the beaches and real feel of each resort. We were considering Memories before but she was really leery after reading reviews about shuttle times as it sets back a bit behind the Royalton and shares a beach and some facilities. Had room been available we could have just booked them at Royalton but they were booked solid. Touring both resorts let me see just how short the transfer really was. I got to see how massive and fun the water park would be for the boys. Seeing the inclusions and extra services offered to Diamond level rooms also helped me explain to them why paying the small difference could make a real difference in their vacation.
Caribbean wide I have stayed at or toured over 200 resorts. I can compare real experiences and real photos when I am planning my client’s vacations. I know that when people try to book on their own they are bombarded with information on the internet and it is hard to decide how photo shopped the pictures are or who they should believe from the conflicting reviews. My value is my knowledge and my desire for you to have a great vacation. You are not a computer bite to me. I become invested in each vacation I plan trying to make it all each client wants. People vacation very differently and have different priorities and my goal is to discover what is important and provide that. Having been to many islands I also understand the airports. Many do not realize that the Dominican Republic has a tourist fee. My clients are not surprised as these are purchased ahead of time; letting them skip the first line to purchase the tourist card. Consider using my services or even your local travel agent for your next trip to see the difference we can make.
|Posted on June 25, 2016 at 12:45 AM||comments (0)|
This time in Jamaica our home base was on the seven mile beach in Negril. The sand was white and powder soft with clear blue and turquoise waters. The sunsets were perfectly staged on the west side of the island. Some of the resorts we visited were very different since they were built on the cliff side and offered jumping, snorkeling, and caving. The water in both sides was very clear and the prospect of returning and staying on the cliff side really excite me for a different sort of Jamaican vacation.
Rock House, Tensing Pen, and The Caves offer European or all inclusive packages depending on the resort. From cottages built of the rock of the west end to themed wood options abound for all. Special spots for those staying or those who would like to come for a special candle lit diner in the caves abound.
We ate dinner one night at Push Cart. The Jamaica fare was tasty and the drinks cold. I had a ginger infused drink that was especially yummy while the hubs kept to his Red Stripe. While there we danced to the reggae music and explored the decorations. The included catamaran form Couples stopped for the guests to check out the caves below. 3 teenage boys climbed the side of the cliffs with bare hands and feet in order to jump or do flips for tips. It was both cool and sad that their teenage job was one that risked their lives and had already scarred each boy‘s face in some way.
The hubs did the One Love Pub Crawl. He visited 8 “pubs” from small places that made you wonder how you were served a cold drink to ones similar to Push Cart. There were great views and lots of opportunities to interact with the Jamaican People. You will not be going to Rick’s as your driver considers that too touristy but you see lots of beautiful areas mixed in with small mom and pop type “pubs”. You will have multiple offers to purchase local ganja if that is bent. We do not partake but found the people standing with large buds for you to buy an interesting site.
Since you have to be at the airport 3 hours n advance of your flight we always use Club Mobay. They recently added a top lounge to Club Mobay where you can watch planes land and depart. There are adult’s only, quiet, and family sections. Your drinks and snack foods are included while you relax in comfy chairs and upload your vacation pics on the freewifi. This was the earliest we have ever been to Club Mobay and they had breakfast items available.
As always we will miss Jamaica until we return again.
|Posted on April 16, 2016 at 11:55 PM||comments (0)|
I will be headed to the island I call home again in May. I have lost count of how many times we have visited her; but she still holds secrets for me to learn. She definitely holds my heart. The warmth of her people combined with its musical heritage calls me whenever I am away. Jamaica, sweet Jamaica I soon come.
This time we will be staying at Couples Swept Away. I have visited Couples Tower Isle and Couples San Souci but this will be our first time staying at a resort of the chain. This resort is located on the beautiful 7 mile beach of Negril. I am not a stranger to this long white beach. We have stayed at Sandals Negril and Beaches Negril; both are located a walk away from this resort. I am excited to see the difference and experience the laid back feel I hear so much about. I look forward to the flag drink service on the beach as I lay basking in the sun.r. Something about the beach and waves makes it so hard to get up and get motivated to do more than stare at the beauty around me. I am excited to visit yet another bar on the cliffs at sunset and experience its ambiance. We have been to Rick's Cafe many times to enjoy the sunset and allow my husband to face his fear of heights as he jumps from the cliffs. The included catamaran is bound to be a sunset to remember as this part of the island gives you perfect views.
Of course as is my lot in life I will be visiting as many resorts in the Negril area as I can with the Jamaican Tourist Board. I want to expand my knowledge and see more of Jamaica. The cliff side resorts really interest me and I asked to see several. I also asked to see some more laid back options.The less chain type resorts just seem right since Negril is said to be chill central.I try to rotate the area I stay in each time I return home. There are some places that just call to me to return.
Tours are usually a focus for me but I really just plan on getting out and about the town. The pub crawl sounds like a fun way to see much of the area and is high on my list. Long walks down the soft white sand to Margaritaville or simply a few vendors or a local restaraunt are not far behind.
I feel blessed to travel as I do. I have to work some, that is true, but I will not let life pass me by. I want to live life NOW! I want to see all I can and embrace new things. I hope I inspire others to do the same.
|Posted on April 16, 2016 at 12:40 AM||comments (0)|
Punta Cana was full of deep soft beaches and warm people. We traveled over Sr. Patrick’s holiday so we experienced special events at our home base of Breathless. I also visited many other resorts over the course of two days.
We landed at the Punta Cana airport and deplaned on the tarmac. A bus then took us a short distance to Customs and Immigration. The airport is set up in a mostly open air fashion. There are large fans to keep you cool. The first area we came to was to purchase the tourist cards. I encourage my clients to purchase these pre travel and we did for ourselves. This allowed us to skip this line and go to the next step. After handing over our cards we proceeded through immigration. There were lines and you can purchase an expedited service in advance if you would like. Next you pick up your checked bags; but, we only do carry on so we went straight to customs. We proceeded to the Amstar desk for our transfer.
We booked a private transfer but you can do a shared transfer or take a taxi. I like that with a private transfer you do not have to wait for others to arrive to be off to your resort. I set up my site inspections with Amstar it was great to get to know our driver and guide as they would be with us for many days of our vacation. They had a sign with our name on it and our name in the window of the van. Our drive was a bit over a half an hour but that is longer than most transfers as our resort was located in Ulvero Alto.
We were met with “welcome to the party” as we arrived at Breathless. This really is their theme for this adults only (not couples only) resort. Our luggage was staged and we were handed our purple signature drink and cool towel Check in at the lobby was quick and we were off on the golf cart to our room. If you decide to go with the Xhale club your check in would be in the Xhale private lounge.
We arrived to our Second floor room and were given a short tour of its amenities. The bed was a comfortable king. The balcony had a jetted tub and faced the party pool that was just beginning a foam party. Our bath had a large shower, double sinks, separate water closet that had an additional bidet. Our mini bar had all the usual items: water, soda, juice, and Presidente beer. Coors light, Budwiser, and a few other options were available as well.
The resort is set up in a u that faces the ocean and beach. Breathless had two main interior pools with swim up bars. Both sides of the U had other pools that were off the swim up rooms complete with more bars across the resort. The resort is lush with palm trees and dappled with art. Most of the dining options were in the main building near the lobby (Tapas, Italian, French, Mediterranean, International, Asian and the Coffee/sweet shop) but there were also options near the beach (Steak, Latin, and the Barefoot Grill. Seating options varied from the traditional loungers to cabanas by the pool or bi level escapes on the beach. The gym and spa are set off to the side and offer plenty of options for the motivated or relaxation seeking traveler.
The beach was deep and soft with a slight gold color. You could stroll along for quite a distance in either direction. While we were there the waves varied from a little heavy to let’s wait till tomorrow. To be fair this is one part of the Island in the Atlantic waters instead of the Caribbean Sea. Lots of other parts of the Caribbean were also experiencing rough water the week we traveled so Mother Nature may have played a part. We ate at a restaurant next door and had wonderful grilled lobster and what we fondly refer to as “crack” fries. Lobster was an extra charge at our resort so we were happy to go out and experience eating at a spot not on a resort. The resort offered the usual kayak, hobble cat, and paddle boards for those who wished to explore further out.
Night life began with evening shows and ended in the night club or Casino. The shows varied nightly from fire to a hypnotist. We had a fun beach party one night and a crazy glow pool foam party another. Each night offered dancing opportunities to warm you up for later at the night club. The night club has a large patio that we often enjoyed the shows from as the night breeze kept us cool. Outside were the oxygen bar and the hookahs. Inside the music pounded and the stripper poles were danced upon. If this all seems like much then Conversation and great drinks were easy to find hanging out in the lobby bar Wink.
I also checked out a variety of resorts in the Punta Cana area. Family resorts from large to intimate. (Hard Rock Punta Cana, Memories/Royalton, Bahia, Dreams, Now , Majestic, Paradisus Palma Real, Bavaro Princes and Ocean Blue ). Kids clubs, teen clubs, bowling alleys, or water parks are availableyou’re your kids to enjoy. I also visited adults only resorts Like Secrets Palm Beach, Chic, Bahia Ambar, Iberostar Grand and Excellence Punta Cana. Many of the family resorts have adult’s only areas or sections. Most resorts also offer club services with certain room levels that afford you special check in, pools, lounges, beach service areas, dining, upgraded room amenities, drink options and more.
Tour options vary from ocean, mountain, and across land experiences. You can swim with dolphins or take a catamaran ride. You can zip line from the heights of the mountains or ride ATV’s to a cave. These and many more optins are just waiting for you.
Contact me to find out more about which resorts will work for your next getaway. 620-481-1659